WASHINGTON AND HOLMES COUNTIES - Imagine calling for an ambulance and being told one is not immediately available due to lack of personnel. Should the nationwide downward trend continue to hit home, this type of response could become a reality.
Local EMS officials state there are varying reasons why paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are in short supply, ranging from lack of marketing in the career field to lagging pay rates.
Washington County Emergency Services Director Randy Truette says recent pay raises for his staff is a huge stride in the right direction for employee retention, citing pay as the main issue.
“We have been given a pay rate increase from the county, and that is a great thing,” said Truette. “However, there are larger departments that pay more, and people tend to leave and go to them. I’ve had EMTs tell me when asked about going to paramedic school, ‘Why would I take on more responsibility for a dollar more an hour?’ This is the trend nowadays, not only locally but on the national scale as well.”
In addition to a lag in competitive pay, Holmes County Emergency Services Director Steve Connell believes a lack of marketing plays the largest role in the decline.
“There used to be Career Days at the schools where we could go in and talk to the students about what we do,” said Connell. “That isn’t the case anymore. We need to start that again. Hopefully it would spark a kid’s interest in this field.”
Chipola College Adjunct Instructor Chris Murray, who also works part time for Washington County EMS, says the issues are far too often a lack of commitment to community.
“There is a lack of homegrown people staying in these small towns,” said Murray. “That is because the prospect of making more money elsewhere to just too great. There is no more commitment to the community anymore. There is nothing keeping these kids here to earn a living.”
While Holmes County currently has a nearly full roster of both full and part-time employees, Washington County is down three paramedics while running three 24-hour ambulances.
The Board of County Commissioners in both counties recently purchased two brand new ambulances for their respective departments with the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding, something for which both departments say they are grateful.
“We badly needed new rigs,” said Truette. “With the purchase of the new ambulances, it allows us to continually progress and improve service to our community.”
“We now have a quick response vehicle at the New Hope Station,” said Connell. “For 14 hours of the day, there is a paramedic in that part of the county who can provide advanced life support while the other ten hours there is an EMT who provides basic life support.”
Truette and Connell say while Washington and Holmes counties are not currently impacted as fully as other agencies, the impact here could grow proportionally with the national trend of paramedic and EMT shortages if the issues aren’t fully addressed soon.
Those interested in learning more about becoming a paramedic or EMT can do so with a ride-along experience with the signing of a waiver. These ride-alongs are offered by both agencies.
For more information, call Holmes County EMS at 850-547-4671 or Washington County EMS at 850-638-9162.